Printed Architecture

The idea of printing 3D objects has been out there for quite a while, now the adaption in the construction industry is becoming a reality too. Architects and companies are testing the possibilities of this groundbreaking technique and the first 3D printed houses were already build.

The most commonly used technique is called Contour Crafting, a layered fabrication technology that allows to automate the construction of entire buildings or composable modules, which can be constructed in a single pass. With this technique it is possible to use less material than with conventional concrete pouring, because the walls can be hollow and the structure is supported by diagonal printed bracing elements inside the wall, creating extra space for insulation or for the essential building services. With 3D printing construction waste can be completely avoided, it is less labor intense, faster and in the long run a very cost efficient method.

In terms of material, the choice is not easy, since it has to be a uniform, rapidly drying material that ensures enough strength to keep the structure together as it sets. So far, there have been experiments with special mixtures of concrete, plastic, metal as well as organic materials such as bioplastic and mud.

The 3d printed canal house in Amsterdam by the architecture firm DUS gives a glimpse of how the future of 3d printing could look like.
The house will be printed by the KamerMaker (Room Builder), a customized purpose built printer. Each room is printed separately on site before they are assembled, while the inner and outer facades are printed at once. The facade consists of numerous diagonal hollow shafts, allowing to connect the modules constructionally as well as providing space for pipes, cables or similar. Some of the shafts are filled with lightweight foaming eco-concrete to ensure strength and stability.
The material used is a 80% bio based hotmelt, the aim is to develop a renewable, sustainable, strong and tactile material, that comply with the requirements.

The WASP (World’s Advanced Saving Project) team takes it even a step further and launched a promising 12m tall Delta printer with the purpose to print full sized buildings, completely made out of natural materials for nearly zero costs. The Printer was presented in Massa Lombarda, Italy in September 2015.
This idea combines new technologies with ancient building technics and draws inspiration from the Mud Dauber Wasp, that builds its nest out of mud. This project aims to minimize the ecological footprint by only using locally available and natural materials, such as a mixture of mud, clay and plant fibre as well as offering an affordable fabrication of homes.
The Delta printer will build full sized houses, using an open- source software and it will be powered by renewable energies such as sun, wind and water.

However there are some points that need to be taken into consideration before getting too excited about printable houses.
There are many factors that need to be analyzed and questioned, such as the choice of material, the energy and resources used as well as the supply chain for the production of 3D printed structures.
If the used material needs to be melted, like plastic, the energy consumption of the printer is quite high and makes the production of such a building anything but eco-friendly.
The decision of material not only influences the ecological footprint, but can also influence the air emissions. If plastic is heated toxic and carcinogenic particles are released, that contribute to the problems of air pollution and can cause serious health problems.

3D printing has a great potential to contribute to a positive impact on humanity and the environment, but is not there yet.

Here are some related links to the topic as well as more detailed information about the projects mentioned:

Contour Crafting

3D Print Canal House

WASP

3D printing in the construction industry

Harmful effects of 3D printing

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